09.08.2016 - 09.08.2016
Once again, an early morning for me today. I arranged to have a driver pick me up at the hostel at 6am so I could reach the airport in time for my flight. Today's trek took me from Rio de Janiero to Puerto Iguazu, though the path there was rather long. I flew from Rio to Sao Paolo, where I had a somewhat lengthy layover (though thankfully not as long as the one on my flights to Rio last week).
I spent time on the flights and during my layover reflecting on my time in Rio and at the 2016 Summer Olympics.
I went to Rio expecting the worst: I thought that I would get mugged, get lost trying to reach the Olympic venues, etc. I had spoken to several people over previous trips who had come to Rio for the 2014 World Cup event and they were all mugged (big event = more tourists = more targets). I came prepared for that should it happen and I came with my guard up against anything. As I got to know the way of the city (ok, the area that I was staying) I began to relax a little bit and really enjoyed myself. Rio isn't a city that I would like to visit again though; there's not much of a draw for me to that area. I'm not a fan of the beach, so the attraction of either Copacabana or Ipanema is lost on me (speaking of which, I never got the chance to visit the beaches, but others at the hostel did and they said they were packed beyond reason - possibly because some events, like beach volleyball, were held at the Copacabana beach).
The Olympics amazed me and I am very, very happy that I decided to attend this year's Games. I decided last year to buy tickets and I remember the initial lottery offering began in late April 2015 - while I was touring Iran! I got the notice while in Iran and frantically emailed my sister to have her enter my name into the lottery as I wasn't sure if I would be able to do so myself from Iran. I have her to thank for getting me entered into the lottery and thus my tickets to fencing, archery, and gymnastics! Back then the Summer Olympics seems ages away: I had two more international trips to plan before then! The Games came and flew by far too quickly.
Archery was an amazingly enjoyable event, one that I hadn't expected to enjoy as much as I did. I've long yearned to take archery lessons (I'd gone so far as to find a local place in Raleigh that offered lessons, but by then I'd already settled on moving to Chicago and so I've decided to wait until then to take it up). The matches were fast, but energetic and intense, which is why I decided to buy the ticket to the afternoon session that day.
Fencing was enjoyable, though I think I would have enjoyed it more had I better understood the sport. Once representatives from countries that I cared for (Germany, France, Russia, USA) were up, it was far more enjoyable and I really got into it. If there was one event that I was disappointed in from the Games it was table tennis. There was little announcing done throughout the matches and it was near impossible to tell what was going on at the far end of the venue. By contrast, at the Vancouver Winter Games in 2010 I saw men's curling which also featured four simultaneous matches; they managed to get the crowd equally invested in them all. Again, I think this suffered for me because I didn't care for any of the match-ups, save for the North Korean, but she was at the far end where I couldn't see. I bought the ticket as a "filler" between fencing and gymnastics, and I'm quite happy that I went. It was fun to see different types of sports.
Gymnastics was weird and still feels weird to me. The lack of focus throughout the event was the truly surprising part; it felt disjointed and it was difficult knowing where to pay attention at each moment. Happily I just heard on CNN that the USA women's team (which I saw compete) won the gold medal tonight!
The aquatics day was truly the highlight of the Games for me. Water polo (another "filler" event) was the bug surprise for me (much like curling was in Vancouver). I loved the game! It was fast, action packed and I was invested in the matches. This is definitely a sport that I would love to watch more of in the future. The swimming event was spectacular, as expected. The time flew by and I wished that there was more. The added bonus of getting to see Michael Phelps swim was fantastic.
Diving. This event stole the show for me. If I could go to only one event at the Olympics, this would have been it. I found the ticket to this event (and swimming) during my lunch break at work one day. I vacillated over buying the tickets or not; I wasn't sure who would be diving, but I thought "What the hell!" and bought them. I quietly hoped to see Tom Daley, but I didn't get my hopes up.
I still can't adequately put into words how incredible those 90 minutes were last night. Seeing Tom's name come up on the board prior to the start got me very excited and that excitement only grew as each round of diving went by. I was giddy when I saw the teams walk out (ok, just Tom). Tom is one of the few LGBT athletes who is "out" and I've heard a lot about him over the past couple years. Seeing videos and reading articles online is nothing to getting to see him dive in person.
I can still feel the elation when the scores were announced and they won the bronze: the crowd erupting with cheers, the Team GB fans going crazy, and of course Tom and his diving partner's awesome reaction, which truly captured the Olympics in that moment. I still feel like I am riding on cloud 9 from last night's event. I wish that it could never end, that the diving would just continue on and on... but of course it did have to end... but there will be more events to go and see. I still wish that I was back there in the stands though... it was magical. That's the only way to describe it. It was unique and beyond words. I doubt that anything else on this trip can match the diving in terms of how excited or happy I got (save perhaps getting to finally visit Red Square!
I've so enjoyed these Olympics and the Winter Games in Vancouver; I'm giving serious thought to timing trips with the countries that host each Olympics - and even trying to volunteer at the Games! But, on to a new adventure... I'll always have the memories from the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. Tchau, Rio!
After grabbing a bite to eat at the airport, it was time to flight to Foz do Iguacu... Iguassu Falls!
The Iguassu Falls lie on the border of Brazil and Argentina; there are two cities and airports that service the Falls, one on either side of the border. Further up river is a point where Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay all meet; technically one can reach the Falls by flying to Paraguay, but then would have to go through Brazil or Argentina to actually get to the Falls. Foz do Iguacu is on the Brazilian side, Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinian.
My hotel is on Puerto Iguazu and I arranged to have a shuttle take me from the airport, across the border and to my hotel. Crossing the border was a painless and simple procedure: the driver simply took my passport into the office, they stamped it and we drove on; I didn't have to get out of the shuttle at all! Thankfully, earlier this year Argentina suspended the requirement that Americans obtain a visa to visit the country; this saved me the hassle of getting one, plus it saved me the $160 fee!
Driving into Puerto Iguazu I was saddened to see that the city was rather run down. I had hoped that the huge tourism draw of the Falls would bring in money and allow the city to improve itself. However, the shabby outer look is overshadowed by the incredibly friendly people living here! This was my first time visiting a Spanish speaking country and I was excited to see if I could remember any of the Spanish I learned (hell, I made into Spanish National Honor Society, you'd think I'd remember something!). I remembered many words and phrases, as well as verbs; I could get my point across (barely), but I could not carry on a conversation.
The woman who checked me in spoke fragmented English, just as I spoke fragmented Spanish, which we both found rather amusing; thankfully we could communicate enough in either language to get the main points. The hotel is rather nice: the room is huge with a comfortable bed, spacious bathroom. The focal point of the hotel is the gorgeous pool in the courtyard, complete with a waterfall. I plan to take advantage of the pool either tomorrow or the morning after.
I still had a couple hours of daylight left and I decided to go for a short walk down to the riverfront where the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay meet. As I was heading out of the hotel a different employee stopped me to explain about the city, the hotel, etc. His name is Miguel and he was very friendly and outgoing. He spoke far better English than I spoke Spanish too. He gave me directions to the riverfront and I headed out.
The walk was short and I found a rather large plaza with many smaller craft shops along it. There was an terrace overlook area with three levels and I was greeted with an amazing view. The river is massive and the jungle all around is stunning. Each country has a small monument on display with their national flag painted on it. I spent a few minutes relaxing and enjoying the view.
Suddenly I heard someone calling out to me and I found Miguel on the terrace level above me! He came down and explained that he was supposed to meet a group of tourists there and take them back to the hotel. We spent some time talking and he explained about the different things on each side of the river. He is originally from Paraguay, but he now lives in Argentina and his father is from Brazil!
A boat drifted by that the tour group was supposed to be on, but it was empty and Miguel said they must not be coming. I wonder if that was a story he used so he could hang out and practice his English (he said earlier that he was studying English). It didn't matter because I enjoyed getting to hang out with him. He showed me an older monument that was somewhat hidden away that pointed to each of the three countries. Then we made our way down a rugged trail towards the riverfront (the terrace was quite high up and the path down was steep and rocky). We didn't go all the way down, but stopped at a little stream that ran nearby and ended in a waterfall that fed the river. We sat down at the top of the waterfall and enjoyed the view; I was surprised at how high the waterfall was given how far it seemed we had walked down already.
Finally we made out way back up along an old set of stone stairs which brought us back up to the terrace. We walked back to the hotel together, chatting quite a bit. Miguel is a very friendly and helpful young man - and was very interested in the United States. When we got back to the hotel, I came back to my room to take a shower.... Confession time: this was the first shower I had since the night I arrived in Rio. Yes, yes... disgusting... I know! BUT, the communal showers at the hostel weren't that great and I just couldn't bring myself to use them after that first night. So, just keep that in mind when you look at all my selfies from the Olympics! :-) You can imagine how wonderful this shower felt.
I planned to head out to the courtyard area and read for a bit before bed, but I found that the sun was nearly set and the hotel didn't have lights in that area. Instead I've relaxed in my room. I don't mind hostels, but I do love having my own room. The peace and quiet is wonderful! We had a group of three girls from somewhere staying in my room the past three nights (they spoke Spanish and spoke to none of us in the room). They would get dressed up (read: whored up) and head out around 11pm each night, returning well after 3am. I do not exaggerate the "whoring it up" that they did - they literally looked like street walkers. They would make tons of noise before they left and when they returned, which drove us all crazy. Tonight... I'll sleep well!
Miguel just brought me confirmation for my guided tour of Iguassu Falls tomorrow - huzzah! I'll be picked up at 7:30, giving me time to each breakfast here at the hotel. (I'd not been able to eat the free breakfast at the hostel in Rio because it began at 8am each morning; I had to leave by 7am to make it to my events each day.)
And finally, here's the video of Tom Daley that I took as he prepared for dive # 5 last night (I finally got YouTube to upload it).... I make no apologies for this. :-) Please to enjoy...